Visual Vernacular: Artist Megan Spacek
Born in Adkins, Texas, artist Megan Spacek paints with the push and pull of removing and replacing information. Gathering her inspirational and physical material from fashion advertising, internet ads, IKEA catalogs and more, Spacek alters pairings of images into fragments of altered realities or conditions. This shattering of imagery that bombards us every day is turned inside out to evoke questions of reality, pondering upon harmony based on the dissonance of mass advertising.
The seduction of advertisements is manipulated into a visually intriguing plain that makes one question the source of intersections between the collages and question the relationship one familiar object has with another. Using a carefully applied layer of paint to fuse the cornucopia of images together, the images become cognoscente connections that otherwise are lost in the fray of commercialism. Megan took the time to answer some questions about her work, her time at BLUEorange Contemporary, and her recent adventures in Asia as part of her documentary series.
Free Press Houston: Are there any particular memories from childhood or later where you began to click as an artist?
Megan Spacek: I was very fortunate to grow up in a pretty creative environment. My dad had a normal job, but also pursued his passion for music with his band. He recently retired, released another album, and is booking more and more gigs. There was never a shortage of entertainment around our house and I was fortunate to have parents that encouraged our creativity. I’ve always enjoyed making things and can remember being extremely focused on perfecting my visions on paper. I think it was in first grade that I won this coloring contest because instead of just coloring in the figure on the page, I envisioned and created a complete environment for my character to live in. I remember being really proud of that! I even created my own language of scribbles and dots since I couldn’t read or write in cursive or maybe even at all. Basically, I was very easily entertained and would use anything I could find and just let my imagination run wild. To this day, my dad’s music room is plastered with drawings and sketches from my brother and myself. My mom has kept practically everything we made as kids.
Megan Spacek, “But Not,” 2013
FPH: How did you gravitate towards collage work, especially using advertisements?
Spacek: I’ve always been really attracted to advertisements. I mean, that’s their goal. When I was in junior high or so, I would page through magazine after magazine and cut out all the things I liked, either aesthetically or if they were funny or clever, and I collaged them to cover an entire wall in my room. I have always collected and kept things like this so why not use it in my work. Especially now, the idea of these highly designed and carefully crafted images or ads are fascinating. So much work goes into creating this single image to depict or sell a lifestyle, brand or even feeling, and some are more successful than others.
FPH: What makes you gravitate towards particular source material?
Spacek: Like I said earlier, I’m a big collector of things, but the way I look at an image is constantly evolving at the same time. Sometimes I’ll see a fashion ad and the folds in the fabric of a dress and how it lays against an area of the models leg or arm will just grab my attention. I’m constantly searching for these subtle moments within a larger picture that is almost purely aesthetic. I want these pieces to give the viewer a hint to what it actually is, or suggest something but I never have a concrete idea in mind that I want to come across. To me, art is more fun when I give the viewer more questions than answers. I believe in the “Death of the Author” and that once I put a painting out into the world it’s no longer mine and will always transform with the viewers past experiences and interpretations. It makes art viewing more interactive as well. One of my favorite memories is from a show, MONUMENTAL at Say Si in San Antonio, where I had completed the first of my, what I like to call, Still Life Collages. I painted them in trompe l’oeil and had cropped down ads and collaged them in a very minimal way where you could tell they were flesh, text or environment but you were unsure what part of the body you were looking at or what the text was saying. At the opening, I enjoyed observing viewers discuss what they were looking at and guessing what part of the body they were seeing. It was almost like a game and if someone would ask me, I’d make them guess before I’d explain what it really was.
Megan Spacek, “These That,” 2014
FPH: In a culture where so much imagery is just incredibly blatant, how do you as an artist seek to reimagine what one truly sees?
Spacek: We live in a world where ads and other visual stimulus are constantly being shoved in our faces. Everywhere you look there is something vying for our attention. Creating these visually simple but confusing images was an important step for me. It was about my interest in finding beauty in these highly commercialized images and by breaking them down into these purely aesthetic pieces, denying the ad its original purpose. I think we’re all so conditioned to quickly understand the message of these ads and then move on to the next thing. It has to be catchy and clever and quick for it to work and people may not realize all the subtle little nuances in design that make up these lovely images. I seek them out, arrange them in a new way, and blow them up for the viewer. I especially love the idea that a viewer’s personal experiences and thoughts towards a color, shape, or more specific imagery effects how they interact and interpret a piece. I want my paintings to mean something different to the person standing next to you. I can control how and what I collage together, my color choices, canvas size, and composition of the image but I cannot control what the viewer will see, how it effects them or if they like it or not and that’s the truly interesting part. Nothing makes me happier than discussing my work with someone and hearing what they think it means or is showing or even if they hate it for some reason. The conversation stemmed from spending time with my work is why I make it.
FPH: How has your involvement with BLUEorange and Art Adventures shaped your eye and the direction of your artwork?
Spacek: It’s like anything, the more time you put into something the more you get out of it. Coming to Houston and starting BLUEorange with Jacob [Spacek] has been extremely rewarding. There’s nothing like opening your first art gallery and jumping in head first! Luckily, the Houston art scene is incredibly inviting and helpful and everyone wants everyone to be successful. This outpouring of support and community has made it easy to get to know other artists, curators, etc. and pick their brains. I never knew how much I didn’t know about the art world until we started the gallery. I’d say we’ve got the basics of running the gallery down, but it’s always fun to see how a new artist creates and builds their work, hangs their work, transports their work. It’s a constant learning experience and I’m always finding inspiration for new directions, or techniques to experiment with and translate into my practice.
Art Adventures has been a truly eye opening experience for countless reasons. It started as a way for us to highlight Houston and Houston-area artists and let them and their work do the talking. I’ve always enjoyed going on studio visits, seeing an artist in their natural habitat and diving into what drives them to make the work they make. Getting that on camera to expose to a larger viewing audience is so fun and exciting! It’s different than an artist talk because we make it fairly informal and it develops like a conversation between friends. Of course we edit it down for content and time but you learn a lot and I’ve realized things that I never even knew I was doing in my own work from these conversations. Our most recent project is the creation of our first full-length documentary. We took Art Adventures to South Korea after an invitation to participate in Art Busan 2016. Being in another country alone is enough to inspire new ideas in an artist, but going around and getting to interview people from all facets of their art world made it an invaluable experience. I have so much I want to apply to my own work and get cracking.
Megan Spacek, “Fond,” 2013
FPH: What were some of the most interesting things that occurred during your recent travels to Asia?
Spacek: The entire trip was amazing but being immersed in a completely new culture and experiencing first hand their art world was just unbelievable. The interviews were eye-opening, just to compare and contrast how things are done in South Korea vs. Houston. They have such a strong culture there and the city of Busan is really pushing public art to help preserve and express their culture, it’s really amazing. I’d say the most interesting thing was how different everything was but how welcoming and recognizable it was at the same time. I definitely felt like a foreigner while I was there but never once felt unsafe or taken advantage of because we couldn’t really speak the language. The language barrier was definitely the most challenging thing to overcome while we were there. Running an art booth where you don’t know if the person approaching you knows your native tongue is extremely intimidating. I’ve never had difficulty starting a conversation with a new friend but it took a while for me to feel comfortable navigating those situations at Art Busan. Overall, the trip was a great success and we have a lot to share with the world about our experiences when we release our documentary. It’s changed my outlook on the world and I can’t wait to explore and discover what else it has to offer, especially in an art sense.